Conformity of the Human Will to the Divine

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1: 21


Book Three:

Chapter Five:  That Conformity of the Human Will
to the Divine is the Supreme Good in Life

THE brother of the Prodigal was indignant that he who had squandered his patrimony should be welcomed home with so sumptuous a feast; and so, looking upon this as an act of injustice to himself, he refused to enter his father's house. But the father, who was very full of pity, in order to appease his son, went out, and began to entreat him not to spoil the joy of the day by dissension. "And he answering said to his father, Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandments; and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf." (Luke xv. 29, 30) But that excellent father, in order to quiet his rage, "said to him, Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine." (Verse 31) Do you not know that you are as much master in the house as myself, that we have but one purse, and that all my goods are yours? And being soothed at last by these words he was content to go in.

And in the same way God, Who is most benignant, preserves a man devoted to His Will, and inflames him thus:-----"Thou art ever with Me; thou art in My Intelligence, in my Memory, and in My Will. I ever regard thee; I embrace thee with singular favour; all I have is thine; My Heaven, My Angels; yea, My Only-Begotten Son is thine; and more than this, I Myself am thine, and will remain thine; I will be thy Reward exceeding great through all eternity." (Gen. xv. 1)

Nor is this enough for that most loving Father, but in order that the man who is devoted to the Divine Will may know how much he prevails with God, He further bestows upon many the power of doing such things as can be done by Divine Strength alone. "The works that I do," says Christ, "he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do." (John XIV. 12) This is the Sovereignty of God, of which I have already spoken (see preceding Chap.); this is His most loving promise; this is to be regarded by Him with perpetual favour. God holds a divided empire, as it were, with man, since all things which are God's are also man's, yea, even God Himself. S. Paul affirms most confidently,-----"All things are yours; whether it be Paul, or Apollo, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: for all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's." (1 Cor. III. 22, 23) Yours they are, not as yet indeed in possession, but for your use, and for this end, since all things were made that they might minister to your salvation. The world and all created things are yours, for they all serve the body and soul. Life is yours, so that you may devote it to the sole Will of God. Death is yours, that by it, as through a door, you may pass into Paradise. Present things are yours, prosperous and adverse alike, for you use them to advance in virtue. Future things, too, are yours, since you will enjoy them at your pleasure. All things work together for your good. (Rom. VIII. 28) The Lord has granted you your heart's desire. (Ps. xx. 3)

1. The son of Themistocles used to boast that the entire Athenian republic was governed by him, since all the citizens willed what he willed. And while people were wondering at this vaunting speech of the young man, he added,-----"That which I will my mother wills also (for she loved her son most tenderly), and that which my mother wills my father, Themistocles, also wills; and it is well known that whatever pleases my father at once pleases all Athens. And in this way," he said, "the Athenian republic is quietly brought under my government." And in the same way, but with a better right, a man whose will is perfect may say,-----"That which I will the whole host of Heaven wills also; for that which I will God wills (since I never will anything but that which He wills), and that which God wills, all the orders of the blessed and all the degrees of the Angels will also." To such a man as this the Father repeats these most soothing words,-----"All I have is thine." But the wicked are rebels still; and yet the time will come when they also will be made subject to the just:-----"The just shall have dominion over them in the morning." (Ps. XLVIII. 15) As long as the night of this life lasts monstrous acts of wickedness are perpetrated, and are not discovered; the Divine Will is resisted, and God keeps silence; but "in the morning," in the last day when all shall rise again, then "the just shall have dominion over them." All the power of the wicked shall consume away like a worn-out garment; and then will it be said afresh,-----"All I have is thine." Most truly does S. Paul say,-----"He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. VI. 17), through this consent of the will, from which man derives tranquillity of conscience, and sanctity of life, so as ever to flourish and bloom.

Brocardus relates a wonderful story about certain places in the Holy Land, solemnly asserting that nothing is told by him but what he saw with his own eyes:-----"Before one of the gates of Jerusalem," he says, "there is the spot, distant about a spear-cast from the city, where our Lord addressed the multitude, and at this same place is pointed out a stone on which that woman stood who cried out, in the midst of our Lord's address, 'Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck.' (Luke XI. 27) The hill is never covered with sand, although in the neighbourhood it flies about like snow driven with the wind, and settles on everything else. And besides this, both in summer and winter, this grassy spot, by some wonderful property, preserves its verdure perfect." Now there is great resemblance between this ever-verdant hill, as I may so say, and the man who receives the Divine Will into his inmost heart, so as to exclaim,-----"I desire that Thou, O my Lord, shouldest address me here; to Thee will I listen." So perfect a mind as this is never buried beneath the sandy waves of troubles, nor can anything ever come so much amiss to a man of a disposition like this, as to prevent his saying,-----"Thou dealest gently with me, O Lord, and sparest me too much; I have merited severer treatment; "I feel these afflictions indeed, however light they may be: but not what I feel, but what Thou willest, I regard; and because Thou permittest these things, I have no desire so much as to open my mouth against them. Whatever I see pleases Thee pleases me. I am perfectly satisfied with all Thy Decrees. I am fully prepared to obey every indication of Thy Will. Bid, command, ordain, change, as Thou wilIest. Too foolish should I be, and wicked, if I were to require to restrain Thee, or place a limit to Thine Ordinances!" Such a man as this a perfect army of misfortunes will never be able to vanquish; nor will the loss of anything tear him away from God. Here at least he is invincible; he flourishes both in summer and winter, in adversity as well as in prosperity.

2. When Jehu the general met Jonadab, he addressed him kindly and said,-----"Is thy heart right as my heart is with thy heart? And Jonadab said: It is. If it be, said he, give me thy hand. He gave him his hand. And he lifted him up to him into the chariot." (4 Kings X. 15) And that which Jehu did, Christ the King of all the world did also. He came to Samaria, which, by its very name, signifies this world bristling with thorns; and for this purpose He came, that He might destroy all the family of wicked Achab and the false priests of Baal, that is to say, that He might root out pride, lust, idolatry, and every kind of sin. And here Christ found Jonadab, a man of good will, to whom He put the question,-----"Is thy heart right, as My Heart is with thy heart? If it be, give Me thy hand, and mount into My Chariot, and come with Me." To such an one God stretches out the right Hand of His Grace, and raises him up into the lofty Chariot of His Will; and in this he is borne along. For,-----"Come with Me," He says, "and I will lead you by the way of the Cross; this is the very path to life, even that life which is eternal. Fear not; sit by My side, I will not suffer you to fall; by this narrow path will I conduct you to Heaven. Come with Me, that you may ever be with Me, and by My side." This is that safest of all places in the world which Job so exceedingly longed for when he said,-----"Deliver me, O Lord, and set me beside Thee, and let any man's hand fight against me." (Job XVII. 3) I shall endure, he means, and come out safe from a thousand blows, being perfectly secure in Thy keeping. When a man has once reached this Chariot of the Divine Will, it is easy for him to insinuate himself into the closest intimacy with Christ, yea, and to become a kinsman of Christ, and to be united to Him by the closest ties of relationship; for our Lord Himself declares,-----"Whosoever shall do the Will of My Father That is in Heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother." (Matt. XII. 50) And here Euthymius very rightly exclaims,-----"O admirable virtue which exalts those who attain to it to such a height of honour as to make them the very kinsmen of Christ!" Of a truth the union of the human will with the Divine is the supreme good in life.

A saintly man used to say,-----"WHATEVER YOU WISH TO BE, THAT YOU ARE!" For so great is the power belonging to our will, when united to the Divine, that whatever we seriously and with our whole intention desire to be, we may be. No one ardently wishes to be lowly, patient, modest, or liberal, who may not be that which he desires to be,-----"WHATEVER YOU DESIRE TO BE, THAT YOU ARE." The same holy man further adds:-----"If it is not in your power to do, or offer, great things, yet have at least a great will, and stretch this to infinity. Are you poor? You can still be of that mind, that, if riches were yours, you would bestow them liberally on the needy. Is your strength small? Still you may so offer yourself, that, if you had a thousand souls and a thousand heads, you would not refuse to lay down the thousand souls, and heads, and lives for Christ. Are you afflicted? And do you think yourself wretched? Unite your will to the Divine, and you will be perfectly happy. That man is truly wretched who knows not how to rule himself, and for possession of whom vices contend, as cities do for the birth place of Homer; who, by a most disgraceful alternation, is one while the slave of ambition, at another, of avarice, at another, of anger or envy, at another, of drunkenness or lust. Scarcely ever is he his own, and much less God's, because he is never able to rule himself. The poet sings of Hercules,-----"When he had made all things his slaves, he himself fell a slave to desire and anger." And we may say nearly the same of such a man as I am describing. Although he possesses all things, yet he wants himself; he is not his own, but is the slave of money or passion, and many other vices. "The patient man is better than the valiant: and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh cities." (Prov. XVI. 32) If you desire to bring all things into subjection to yourself, submit yourself to the Divine Will. You will rule many, if the Divine Will rules you.

3. In all ages of the world God has ever had certain from among men whom he has chosen to Himself to be His friends, whom He might admit to intimacy, to whom He might unfold many of His secret designs, and to whom He might manifest Himself by daily favours. And of these some are, as it were, of the first order of nearness to Him, others of the second, and others of the third. That is to say, some are more closely united to God than others. Men of this kind we call "Saints."

Now the very first step to saintliness of life is to surrender oneself absolutely to the Divine Will in all things. That man attains to the greatest sanctity of life who descends deepest into the Divine Will. And so blessed Paul, desiring this one thing in his converts, says,-----"We cease not to pray for you, and to beg that you may be filled with the knowledge of His Will." (Col. I. 9) It is not enough for him that the Divine Will should be recognized by his children in the Faith, but he desires that they should be "filled" with this knowledge. He desires that they should descend as deeply as possible into the Divine Will. For Paul knew that when he had obtained this from them they would advance very rapidly, and without difficulty, in the pursuit of all kinds of virtue.

How fitting, moreover, is it that that which from eternity has been pleasing to God should be pleasing also to man. When Harpagus had dined off the flesh of his own son, and King Astyages (who had prepared that banquet) ordered the remaining limbs, such as the head, and arms, and feet, to be brought forward, and inquired,-----"How did you like it? He replied,-----"Whatever the King does I like." Ah! miserable wretch! is it so great a matter to you to throw off the man that you may please a beast? And should not we Christians the rather say this one thing under all circumstances,-----"Whatever God does pleases me?"

The gross flattery of the Romans used formerly to subscribe to the petitions which were presented to the Emperor,-----"The most devoted servant of your Deity and Majesty." Christians, too, present petitions when they pray. And therefore let everyone always add, both to his prayers and works,-----"To Thy Deity and Will, O my God, I am most devoted." To devote one's whole will to the Divine Will, and closely to bind it there, is the supreme good in life, and is in reality Heaven out of Heaven, as I shall now proceed to show.